It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
When I was in 7th grade, my teacher Mrs. Eckert announced to our class that would be reading A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. We thumbed through the book and groaned in unison. Too long! Too old-fashioned! Too hard!
Still, I wasn’t one to duck my assignments. My mother wasn’t one to allow me to! So I grudgingly began. Paris and London. Revolution and respite. Charles Darnay, the reluctant French aristocrat and Sydney Carton, the British barrister who defended him in court and just happened to look amazingly like him. And Lucie Manette, the sweet young thing loved by both, but married to Charles Darnay.
I didn’t know much about the French Revolution when I began the book, but by the time I finished it, I understood a great deal. Excesses of wealth and power, and the horrific response they spawn. I soaked in the plot twists : Madame Defarge in her husband’s wine shop, knitting, knitting, knitting. I discovered underlying themes: Sin and redemption. Death and resurrection. And most wrenching of all to my twelve-year-old heart, the power and sacrifice of love.
With Charles Darnay imprisoned in the Bastille awaiting the guillotine, Sydney Carton had him drugged and secreted away in a carriage headed for London, then he took Charles’ place in prison. To Lucie, Sydneyvowed:
I will give my life to keep one you love beside you.
Sydney Carton went to his death without regret.
It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better place I go to than I have ever known.
Charles and Lucie made it safely back toEngland. They named their baby son after Sydney.
Imagine being able to touch hearts and move society to action through words on a page! I wanted to do that!
Thank you, Mrs. Eckert, for introducing me to Charles Dickens. Thank you Charles Dickens for being the spark for my own writing career.
Oh, and happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!
“Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”